Interview With Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary Clinton, so much for making the time. I know it’s been a very long day. (Laughter.) All right. Can we get started? Great.
So today in Geneva this political transition plan that has been endorsed didn’t have the strongest language that the U.S. had hoped for. What makes you think that Russia and China are committed to pulling their support for Assad? What makes you think this is going to work?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I believe it did have strong language. We can always, in any document, worry over and argue over words, but the bottom line is that it pledged to support a transitional governing body whose members can only be put on that body by mutual consent. So as I said in the meeting when we were working together, I don’t think you have to be up on current events to know that no member of the opposition is going to have Assad or anyone else with blood on their hands on the transition body.
So I think the important achievement was to get a unified P-5, plus the permanent members of the Security Council, plus other key actors to really endorse Kofi Annan’s guidelines and principles so that he was empowered. He can now go to the Assad regime and say we have to start talking about a transition and not be met with well, we don’t have to do that, because Russia and China don’t agree with us. And I believe that it was a significant step forward in giving him the tools that he needs to test whether it is possible to mediate this very bloody, violent conflict.
QUESTION: So not everything you had hoped for, but better than it could have been?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I didn’t know that we were going to be able to get anything when we started. There was every reason to believe that we would never get the Russians and the Chinese on board or that we would ever satisfy the legitimate anxieties of the region about what is happening on their doorstep. Turkey, of course, was here today. And I think the fact we did demonstrated a recognition by the Action Group of the high stakes.
I mean, it’s not enough just to wring our hands and make impassioned speeches about how terrible the Assad regime is and how they are deteriorating into a civil war that will have regional consequences. We needed to put some flesh on the bones. And the only way to do that within the existing framework was to empower Kofi Annan. That’s what he was asking for; that’s what he wanted. And I really judge the success by the fact that he believes – and I agree with him – that he now has a stronger hand to play then he did yesterday.
QUESTION: So the challenge, as you said, is in the implementation. Now, you’ve publicly criticized Russia for selling arms to the Syrian regime. So if an arms embargo were agreed to, would Russia abide by it? And could the U.S. force its allies – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – to stop arming the opposition?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that’s one of the issues that we’re going to have to be discussing further as we go forward. Clearly, the United States believes that ending the arming of the Assad government is the first order of business. The Russians continue to claim that they are not providing anything that can be used to suppress internal dissent. We beg to differ.
But nevertheless, I think where we are today gives us the basis for going to the UN Security Council to discuss what consequences have to be considered and imposed if after empowering Kofi Annan he comes to the Security Council and reports to us – as he said he will do – that the government’s not cooperating, that other parties are not cooperating, that he’s not making progress. Then I think we will have to act. And I believe we will be building the case as to why the Security Council should take such action.
QUESTION: Well, that’s actually what I wanted to move to. Is the next step proposing a Chapter 7 mandate at the UN Security Council that could mandate sanctions or authorize military force to stop the slaughter? And would China and Russia agree to that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we are going to test first whether we can get the agreement we reached today implemented. And we are certainly going to consider any and all appropriate action through the Security Council as circumstances require. So I don’t want to answer a hypothetical, because we’ve just finished a very long day of very hard negotiations, and the fact that we came out united and determined to empower Kofi Annan has to be given some time to be tested.
But I said – and I said it again in my press avail after the session today – that we, the United States, are perfectly free to propose whatever we believe is necessary in the Security Council, and we will listen closely to Kofi Annan’s reports to us.
QUESTION: Let me just turn for a moment to Iran’s nuclear program. You recently sat for an interview with former Secretary of State James Baker in which he said that at the end of the day, if pressure and talks don’t work, we ought to take them out. You said that the end of the day might be next year. How much time are you giving for diplomacy and sanctions?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, what I meant was that we’ve always had a two-track policy. The President’s been very clear on that. The pressure track is our primary focus now, and we believe that the economic sanctions are bringing Iran to the table. They are going to continue to increase and cause economic difficulties for them. But the President has said no option is off the table. We obviously, clearly, prefer that we resolve the international community’s dispute with Iran over their nuclear program through the diplomatic channels that we are pursuing. That is what we’re focused on and that’s what we’re going to do everything we can to make successful.
QUESTION: Last question on Pakistan. It’s been seven months since the accidental attack that killed some Pakistani soldiers and the Pakistanis shut their supply lines. Relations have been frozen since. Why not just apologize and try to move on?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have a number of issues with the Pakistanis that we are continuing to consult with them over. It goes on constantly. It may not be in the headlines, but there is a constant exchange of military and civilian experts. And I want to look at this comprehensively. And there are a number of issues that are important to the United States, and there are issues that are important to Pakistan, but it has to be negotiated in order to resolve any of them. And we’re still in the process of trying to do that.
QUESTION: Is an apology still possible?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to get into the specifics, because there are a lot of things we want from them, and they want things from us, and we’re just going to have to see what is possible to get the relationship moving. As I’ve said many times, I think this is a consequential relationship. I think it has great impact on America’s national security interests, on the regional interests. And so we are continuing to work as hard as we can to try to resolve the ongoing differences between us.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Madam Secretary.